Nancy Amidei’s Food Stamp Diary: Week Three (Including a Holiday Message to Congress, urging them to restore cuts made to SNAP)

WEEK THREE

Day One

Went to a friend’s birthday celebration – which means I ate well that night, AND I can stretch last week’s meat purchase a bit longer.  I mentioned feeling guilty that I’d eaten so well, and was told:  think of it as a visit to a soup kitchen – rare, but wonderful.

Day Two

One thing I hear a lot:  “What about beans? They’re good for you, and low-cost.”
Answer:  I’m not too fond of beans, especially not as a big part of my diet.

However I AM getting lots of money-saving tips – many of which involve cooking that takes a long time. It’s a trade-off that can work for someone like me, but not for anyone with a low-paying job, long commutes, and/or no kitchen (e.g., if I were living in my car, or at a shelter).

Day Three

A friend gave me three oranges ~ what a treat!  Later, at a meeting, someone put out a bowl of red grapes.  Fruit TWICE in the same day!  In the past, that would not feel like a big deal; on $4.20/day – it’s a VERY big deal.
And since I’m fighting a cold, that fruit feels downright therapeutic.  Plus, I spotted some leftover Halloween candy in a kitchen drawer… good news for my sugar-craving (tho’ admittedly not in my budget).

Day Four

Finishing off my potatoes and carrots.  Running out of bread; tired of cheap cheese.  If this continues, I’ll try to make some different choices, based on what I’ve learned… if I can. However I realized today that I’m going through a lot of cough drops (which I didn’t count in my food budget). While it’s true that I have a cold and cough, I suspect this is really about keeping a taste in my mouth when I’m hungry.  Hmmm.

Day Five

It now appears likely that the Conference Committee on the Farm Bill will not finish before Congress adjourns at the end of this week.  That means the issue of food stamp cuts won’t be settled til Congress convenes again in January.  It also means I won’t be facing the holidays on $4.20/day. A relief.
But I’m keenly aware that everyone who depends on food stamps isn’t so lucky.

Last Day

Dropped another half-pound.  Used up the last of the eggs in my fridge, the last of a few other items.  If Congress hadn’t adjourned, I’d be heading out to shop for a week’s worth of groceries for $29.40. Everyone should do this for a couple of weeks, especially anyone who thinks getting food stamps makes for an easy life, or prompts people to quit their jobs.

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It is hard to fathom why Congress would “choose” hunger for millions of people by cutting SNAP even more – and yet that’s what’s being proposed when Congress returns in January.  Low-income people don’t “choose” hunger.  It’s no mystery that SNAP use rises when unemployment rises, and falls when the economy picks up.  And while SNAP helps, $4.20/day for food doesn’t make unemployment easy.

In each of my three weeks on a food stamp allotment, I was:  thinking of food a LOT; conscious of a growling stomach a LOT; and generally aware of having less energy.  Why anyone would wish that on millions of children, elderly, low-wage workers, and people with disabilities – especially in our food-rich country – is beyond me.

So I hope that everyone reading this will send a Holiday Message about SNAP to our two U.S. Senators (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell) and your 1 U.S. Representative. Not sure how to contact your U.S. Senators or Representatives, visit the Coalition’s website to find their contact information. Your message can be something as simple as:

  “In the midst of holiday meals and parties, I hope you will remember all those who are struggling to get by on food stamps.  And when Congress reconvenes, ask your colleagues to RESTORE the cuts made on November 1, and REJECT any further cuts in SNAP.”

 

Made in America: Homeless veterans on our streets during the One Night Count

“Made in America” ~ Photo courtesy of David Entrekin.  All rights reserved.

This photograph by local business owner, citizen activist, and photographer David Entrekin always takes my breath away.  Click on the image to see the larger photo, and you will see the words on the cardboard carefully laid out to make a sleeping surface: Made in America.  That is how I think about homelessness, and it is especially, painfully apt as we think about homelessness among veterans of our armed forces.

At least 62,619 veterans were homeless overnight during the January 2012 one night counts across the nation. This shocking number includes veterans in shelters and transitional housing programs, as well as those who lack even basic overnight shelter.  Last year, the Coalition developed a new part of the One Night Count designed to improve our  knowledge about how many veterans are without basic overnight shelter.

Homelessness among veterans rivets people’s attention.  People who are  quick to think about homelessness as a complex combination of individual shortcomings, societal failures, and economic hard times, come easily to a simple conclusion:  no person who risked his or her life in service to this nation should be shivering under a bridge.

In the last two years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) has begun working more deliberately and closely with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address homelessness among veterans.  The good news is that this effort has meant that new, additional resources, including money, are being directed to reach out to, shelter, support, and house veterans.  When the national 2012 One Night Count results were released a few weeks ago, Secretary Donovan at HUD and Secretary Shinseki at the VA proudly noted a 7% decrease in homelessness among veterans since the January 2011 count.

For our Veterans Interview Project (VIP), we train volunteers to ask short survey questions the morning after the One Night Count, placing them at public meal sites, day centers, employment and hygiene programs, and other locations where a high proportion of people are likely to have spent the previous night outdoors.  Last year we partnered with 16 Coalition member agencies and other organizations, and spoke with nearly a thousand individuals.  Our volunteers asked three simple questions:

  1. Where did you stay last night?
  2. Have you ever served in the U.S. Armed Forces?
  3. Were you ever called into active duty as a member of the National Guard or as a Reservist?

Through this survey, and through our survey of key service providers who work with homeless people and veterans, we showed that at least 163 King County veterans lacked basic overnight shelter on this one cold, winter night.  This information strengthened and informed our local, regional, and national work.

The Veterans Interview Project improved our local count of veterans, but the sad truth is that we know that actual numbers of unsheltered veterans are higher.  Our careful counts are conservative, and not comprehensive. They allow us to state with confidence that at least 163 veterans in our community need immediate and long-term help, among the many hundreds of people who are outside overnight.

On January 25, 2013, we will be conducting our Veterans Interview Project again.  If you are interested in helping the Coalition with this special project, we are looking for people who are available for a three hour shift on Friday, January 25, 2013, and who have experience working with veterans or people who are homeless.  Please click here to fill out a volunteer application. Thank you.